Saint Mechtildis of Hackeborn
Saint Mechtildis, born in 1240 in Saxony, was the younger sister of the illustrious Abbess Gertrude of Hackeborn. She was so attracted to religious life at the age of seven, after a visit to her sister in the monastery of Rodardsdoft, that she begged to be allowed to enter the monastic school there. Her gifts caused her to make great progress both in virtue and learning.
Ten years later, when her sister had transferred the monastery to an estate at Helfta offered by their brothers, Mechtildis went with her. She was already distinguished for her virtues, and while still very young became the valuable Assistant to Abbess Gertrude. One of the children who in the monastic school were committed to her care, was the child of five who later became known as Saint Gertrude the Great.
Saint Mechtildis was gifted with a beautiful voice, and was choir mistress of the nuns all her life. Divine praise, it has been said, was the keynote of her life, as also of her famous book, The Book of Special Grace. When she learned, at the age of fifty, that two of her nuns had written down all the favors and words of their Abbess, which she had become, she was troubled, but Our Lord in a vision assured her that all this has been committed to writing by My will and inspiration, and therefore you have no cause to be troubled over it. He added that the diffusion of the revelations He had given her would cause many to increase in His love. She immediately accepted the Lord’s bidding, and the book became extremely popular in Italy after her death. Its influence on the poet Dante’s Purgatorio is undeniable, for she had described the place of purification after death under the same figure of a seven-terraced mountain. The Donna Matelda of his Purgatorio, who guides him at one point in his vision, is Saint Mechtildis as she represents mystical theology. She died in 1298 at the monastery of Helfta.
*On leap years, the feast day of this Saint is celebrated on February 27.
The Catholic Encyclopedia, edited by C. G. Herbermann with numerous collaborators (Appleton Company: New York, 1908); Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).